The United States is known to have the most significant intake of undocumented immigrants worldwide while making it very difficult for a person to make it out of a detention center. Today, the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement  manages and oversees the nation’s civil immigration detention system, which typically houses up to 30,000 undocumented immigrants and arranges for deportation (removal) of more than 500 undocumented immigrants each day. 

While dealing with circumstances that come from being an undocumented immigrant, how can an individual feel protected, let alone accepted into a new community, knowing that at any given time, they can end up being locked up for no other reason than fleeing from unsafe places? The mistreatments from ICE are only an additional trauma on lives that have already been through enough. 

Those arrested with no legal papers or those who enter the U.S borders with no legal documentation can be taken into custody. In 2019 alone, ICE detained 500,000 people in over 200 detention centers in local and state jails, juvenile detention centers, and shelters. Undocumented immigrants and refugees have faced abuse while detained, such as being denied access to lawyers and medical care, and most importantly, separation from families and loved ones. According to the Washington Post, more than 24 migrants died in custody during the Trump administration.

Detained individuals experience unjustified abuse and human rights violations. For instance, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Raquel (who real name is not being reported for her protection) experienced sexual abuse from an ICE officer in a van on the way to the airport. She described being locked in a cage, afraid for her life, and full of regret for leaving her kids behind for what she thought could ultimately help her entire family, to then find herself in a traumatizing situation.

There have also been reports of Border Patrol officers on horseback with whips in their hands trying to stop Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from entering Texas near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge. The agents have denied whipping anyone. 

The photographer Paul Ratje, who captured images of the border patrol agents attempting to stop the Haitians, expressed fear. The men on horses caused the migrants to panic, he explained, and they tried to run around the horses. “The agents tried to block them, and then one agent grabbed a man by his shirt and then kind of swung them around,” Ratje told the Daily Mail. 


These alleged mistreatments are absolutely unacceptable and go against the 4th, 6th, and 14th Amendments as well as the right to seek asylum, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Above all the laws, these people are human beings just like you and me, and we could possibly find ourselves in their shoes.  

We must change our mentality and create new enforcement to better meet the needs of everyone who deserves a second shot at a new life while maintaining safety and protection in this country. Instead of adding more traumatic experiences to what these people have already mourned, we should offer a home, a helping hand, and a shoulder to rely on so that they can heal from persecution, abuse, personal loss, and reunite with families to become the best version of themselves and an overall asset to this country.

It is impossible for an individual to feel welcomed and safe in a new society knowing that some people in the position of protecting them are actually against their well-being. There has to be a way to treat those who flee from persecution and unsafe situations, rather than to send them back to what they initially escaped. 

Milly Mpundu is a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, and this piece was written as part of coursework in Incarceration Nation class.

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